“I just came from the onsen* so I’m hot! That’s why I’ve got short sleeves on.”
Once I worked up the courage to open the door and step inside, I could hear the happy voices of some ladies who appeared to be regulars. The counter seats were almost all taken by regulars who were laughing and having a ball. Oddly, there appeared to be no one working — no one behind the counter. Just then, the back door opened and a woman wearing an apron came out and greeted me. “Hi, there should be an open seat soon. Do you mind waiting a few minutes?” A group of customers were just leaving, so she showed my to a seat.
*An onsen is a public hot spring.
This area is called the Motonaka Chuo Market, and it was said to be home to many soldiers who returned from China after the end of World War II. As a place where many people were starting new lives, the area is full of a wide variety of shops, restaurants, and homes.
Fukuya was one of those establishments — opened in 1948 shortly after the end of the war. The couple who opened Fukuya came to Beppu to start a new life. At the beginning though, Fukuya was just a food cart which was rolled from Nageshi Street toward the shopping district selling udon.
When Fukuya was passed to the original owners’ children, the shopping district was becoming a bustling place at night with many adults seeking food and libations. Later, when Fukuya came into the hands of the third generation owners, they were welcoming many guests daily, both locals and tourists.
Throughout each generation of owners, the one thing that has remained constant is the wife’s role and the one is the welcoming face of Fukuya. The husband is behind the scenes, stocking ingredients and preparing the food. One of the most loved dishes at Fukuya is without a doubt the oden*. Inside a rectangular pot of soup, around 20 different varieties of oden quietly simmer.
I eyed the menu written on the wall through the steam that rose from the oden, and ordered the daikon, egg, and beef sinew.
*Oden is a Japanese one-pot dish consisting of ingredients such as boiled eggs, daikon, konjac, and fishcakes stewed in a light broth.
“Would you like regular beef sinew or Achilles heel?”
The woman deftly arranged the oden on a plate, took a small spoonful of hot mustard from a jar, and placed it on the edge of the plate. Each piece of oden was a beautiful color that let me know that they had plenty of time to slow cook in the dashi soup.
“I just went to that massage parlour for the first time the other day, and boy it felt good.”
“Oh, that’s my friend’s place!”
I sat and listened to the conversations going on between the regulars and the woman behind the counter as I ate my oden. Slowly I felt my heart begin to open up, as if I was melting into this city.
I learned from the woman that they used to stay open past midnight. Local workers treasured the special time they were able to spend here after their shifts. “People often say to me, ‘This place hasn’t changed a bit,’ or, ‘The taste is nostalgic.’ Honestly though, we aren’t so picky about this and that. We don’t purposely try to do things the old fashioned way,” said the woman behind the counter. “Even so, I’m just happy when people who have been coming here for decades say they enjoyed the food.” A slight smile came across her face.
“Thank you for the meal,” I said as I got up to leave. “Thank you!” she called back as she counted up the skewers left from my oden and used an old wooden abacus to calculate the bill. “It’s just addition so it’s really easy,” she said. I was mesmerized as she nimbly operated the abacus.
“This restaurant is tied to every part of our lives,” she said of Fukuya. As I was about to leave, she offered a piece of advice to me. “Surely there’s a place just like this one in the town you’re from. You should go there some time.”
|address||3-8 Motomachi, Beppu-shi|
|closed on||Sundays, Mondays|
|recommended for||oden, from 130 yen|